Virtual Reality Experience, “Traveling While Black,” comes to McLean Community Center in December
Documentary Explores Black America Past and Present
The McLean Community Center (MCC) will have the virtual reality (VR) experience “Traveling While Black,” which features a film by Academy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams, in its main lobby starting in December. The VR experience is free and open to the public until Friday, Dec. 31. Starting on Wednesday, Dec. 15, and continuing through Saturday, Feb. 12, patrons can sign up for hour-long appointments Wednesday through Saturday, from noon to 8 p.m. and Sunday, from noon to 6 p.m. MCC is located at 1234 Ingleside Ave. The experience was funded with support from the Québec Government Offices in New York and Washington as well as the Embassy of Canada to the United States and in cooperation with the Fairfax County Public Library.
“Traveling While Black connects technology, art, and social justice in a palpable and powerful manner. MCC is proud to present this first virtual reality exhibit in our center and will be hosting several discussions to help us consider the different questions this exhibit raises,” said MCC Executive Director Daniel Singh. “As we near Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month events, we hope our patrons will take the time to come learn with us and become change agents in creating the world that Dr. King envisioned in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
In “Traveling While Black VR,” the immersion of 360° footage draws viewers into living history lessons told around a booth in Ben’s Chili Bowl. The Washington, D.C., restaurant has been a mainstay of the African American community since 1958, bearing witness to significant Civil Rights milestones that are woven into the film in powerful snippets of footage. From the stirring memories of Civil Rights leader Courtland Cox to the heartbreaking words of Samaria Rice, whose young son Tamir was killed by police in 2014, VR allows Williams to connect the parallels of the past to the present.
Williams depicts how the dangers and difficulties that African Americans navigated generations ago still linger. “‘Traveling while black’ is a term people use to illustrate that in America when you are black and you are going from point A to point B, you are always at risk,” Williams says.
For three decades, an alternate atlas called The Green Book guided African American travelers through Jim Crow-era America to safe spaces such as gas stations, restaurants and hotels. Victor Green, the book’s creator, anticipated that the guide would someday become unnecessary. When Williams was a child, his family would pack everything into their car and drive the 14-hour journey from Philadelphia to Charleston, SC, in one shot. As a kid, Williams never understood why. “They did this because they had to,” he says. “This was the way black people traveled in America.”
Williams was moved to tears the first time he watched the completed film. “It was an unbelievable deep cry that was all of this pain coming to the surface,” he says, noting that people of all skin colors have had similar reactions. “I think what they all are reacting to is this profound, empathetic place of pain and suffering.” For Williams, when a viewer is immersed in the experience, they’re moved to take action.
For more information, visit call the center at 703-790-0123/TTY: 711.